A group of students standing with an orthodox priest at the entrance of ST Nicholas Cathedral in NYC.

An Unforgettable Experience: Visiting Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City

by Christian Agathis (MSB’24)

A group of students standing with an orthodox priest at the entrance of ST Nicholas Cathedral in NYC.

Fr. David Pratt [fourth from left] and Orthodox Christian students in front of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center. (photo credit Becky Hay)

I was really excited to hear that the Orthodox Christian Chaplaincy at Georgetown was undertaking a pilgrimage to NYC. As a New Jersey native, I have spent significant time in “The Big Apple,” and have always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city. Moreover, I had always wanted to visit the famed Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center in Manhattan. As a visit to this shrine was at the heart of the trip’s itinerary, and as the trip’s roster of students grew larger in the days preceding our voyage, my excitement only grew. I looked forward to joining my friends and peers in finally seeing the highly anticipated, recently completed church that replaced the old St. Nicholas, which was tragically destroyed on September 11, 2001.

Before visiting the shrine—the high point of our trip—my classmates and I spent time building up our sense of community within the Orthodox Christian Chaplaincy by experiencing the wide array of enriching historical and cultural opportunities that New York City had to offer. We visited the new Byzantine exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and partook of an NYC tradition—enjoying some New York-style pizza. Most notable for many on this trip, though, was the time we took sitting down together at table to share a meal of traditional Greek cuisine. While Greek music rang through the restaurant, we dined on dishes like Tsipoura (sea bream) and Lamb Gemisto (lamb with orzo), and felt transported halfway across the world to the Mediterranean.

Nine students and trip chaperones, Fr Pratt and Becky Hay sitting at a dining table with plates of food in front of each person.

Hoyas enjoying a traditional Greek dinner together. (photo credit Becky Hay)

On the Sunday morning of our journey, we made the short walk from our hotel over to St. Nicholas to attend the 9:30 AM Orthros service—a one-hour service that is mostly comprised of chanting, and which occurs before the primary service of the Divine Liturgy. As we entered the church, we were all immediately struck by the beauty of the iconography that covered the walls and ceiling. Magnificent images – which, as we came to learn, were painted at the Mount Athos monastery in Greece – adorned the interior and beautifully depicted important moments from the Bible, as well as key events from the life of St. Nicholas.  In addition to the overwhelming beauty of these sacred images, we also encountered stunning images of modern figures as well: the first responders of September 11 who heroically gave their lives just a few steps away from the church over two decades ago. 

As we stood there in the presence of Christ during the Orthros service, with the cantor’s chanting filling the church, we prayed together during what was a beautiful one-hour service. In some settings, when one attempts to pray, distractions may arise and prayer can be difficult. For me, deep and thoughtful prayer has perhaps never come more easily than it did in that church that morning—surrounded by fellow Orthodox believers as beautiful Greek chants reverberated throughout the building. Following the Orthros service, we took part in the Divine Liturgy, the brilliance and beauty of which matched that of the Orthros. After Communion, the presiding priest graciously welcomed our group to the front of the congregation, and bestowed upon us a lovely icon depicting St. Nicholas.

As I left the church that morning, I felt rejuvenated and reinvigorated in my faith. This trip took place during a stressful time in the academic year, but it served as a terrific break from the marathon that is a college semester. Above all, though, I felt grateful that Georgetown would offer such an incredible opportunity for me to strengthen my faith with my spiritual peers on a pilgrimage. As I look forward to my graduation in the coming months, I can confidently say that this weekend spent in New York City left an indelible mark on me that I will carry on through the rest of my life.

Orthodox Christian
Saint Nicholas